Do students have a leg to stand on when it comes to legal advice and action for missed education and reduced university experience?

Hundreds of thousands of students have signed several online petitions calling for tuition fees to be refunded due to disrupted teaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each petition has been debated in Parliament and given the response “Higher Education providers must deliver high quality courses. If students are unhappy they should first complain to their provider and if their concerns are unresolved they can ask OIA to consider their complaint.”

Jack Rabinowicz, partner and specialist in education law at Teacher Stern, gives us an insight into the issue.

Remote, lone online learning has replaced lectures and face to face lessons as students and lecturers have been forced to isolate in response to the pandemic.

For many, it is the student experience they also missed out on but university fees (and often rents) still needed to be paid, despite not receiving the education or experience they had expected.

The higher education ombudsman, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, has recommended financial compensation to some of the hundreds of complaints they have received.

What are the issues?   

There are a number of separate issues which students need to consider.

If you are studying subjects such as medicine, nursing, sciences, technology, architecture or for a BTECs, then the absence of lab experience, being in hospital or on site and therefore have had to utilise distance learning, this may not have adequately given you the experience you will need for post graduate life.

If you were in Year 2 in March 2020 when the first pandemic lockdown happened, you may have lost nearly two years of your course. Many universities before September 2020 had decided that this academic year would not happen; others carried out risk assessments, but some appear not to.

The issues therefore relate to accommodation costs where universities stayed “open” and the devaluing of degrees as a consequence of either lacking the “student experience” or the inevitable omissions from courses by being remote.

At Teacher Stern we have had numerous enquiries on both issues.

What can students do?

Voices are louder together.

Many students may have more of a chance in gaining compensation as a group action, for example, all tenants of a particular accommodation seeking a rebate on rents where going back to the university, such as, after Christmas, has been legally impossible.